Updated January 4, 2024
All About Shibuya Startup Support
One of Tokyo’s special wards, Shibuya City is among the largest commercial centers in Japan.
Fashion, good food, culture, and nightlife – it’s all happening right here in the heart of the city. This district also doubles as a center of finance in Tokyo, where the entrepreneurial spirit is as present as its energetic nightlife.
Shibuya has been a true home for startups since the early days of Bit Valley in the ‘90s – Japan’s answer to Silicon Valley at the time, which is still populated by IT venture businesses today.
Since then, Shibuya has continued to be one of the top places in Japan for new businesses to flourish. As the ward has also historically been the most foreign-populated area in Tokyo, it has long served as a point of entry to Japan for many foreign entrepreneurs and IT professionals.
In 2020, this idea was cemented by the government by declaring Shibuya as the global hub city and establishing the Global Hub City Promotion Office. The Japanese government also introduced the Shibuya Startup Support, an initiative that supports international entrepreneurs wanting to start a business in Japan (the first in a long series of initiatives that the city government had planned).
In this post, I’ll explain the current state and activities of Startup Support Shibuya, and introduce the initiatives that aim to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to start a business in this ever-trendy area.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
A Background on Shibuya as a Startup Hub: The Three Pillars of Development
As I mentioned, Shibuya City has a longer history with startups than initially meets the eye.
While the projects and initiatives I’ll introduce are all post-2020, in the 1990s, the area was called Bit Valley, housing big companies that famously went public at the time, such as the advertising company CyberAgent, internet company GMO, and the now-dead social media platform, Mixi.
After this, despite the country’s decline in the tech scene (see my post on Japanese technology), startups and IT companies, in general, continued to gather in Shibuya to follow in the footsteps of the abovementioned companies. Since then, even tech giants like Google have set up bases in the area, effectively making the ward the IT and startup hub of the country.
That said, Japan was still struggling to foster startups that could compete on an international scale.
So, to achieve this goal, the City Office has been focusing its activities on three main pillars:
As part of the environmental improvement-related projects, the government has introduced a partnership called Shibuya Startup Deck to foster an inclusive and supportive ecosystem. The city also introduced a system to certify noteworthy startups called S-Startups, as well as an educational institution, Shibuya Startup University.
To promote internationalization, the city provides one-on-one assistance on startup visa processes, as well as a one-stop-shop portal for foreign entrepreneurs, Shibuya Startup Support.
For the final pillar of demonstration experiments, the city has been running a project since 2020 that allows selected companies to implement and test their products or services within the ward, with residents signing up to take part in the testing.
While this provides a general outlook on what the Shibuya City Office has been up to, let’s now take a closer look at some of these noteworthy initiatives.
All About Shibuya Startup Support
Launched in September 2020 as a portal for overseas startups and entrepreneurs, Shibuya Startup Support provides all the information a foreign entrepreneur can need.
Started by the Shibuya City office as part of the global hub city program, this initiative aims to provide assistance for startups to grow fast and efficiently, whether they’re from Japan or from abroad.
The Shibuya Startup Support initiative not only provides the latest resources on all things startup through its web portal, but it also provides face-to-face consultations and even offers startups the opportunity to work with local businesses.
Simply put, this is the main landing page for all entrepreneurs or engineers with an idea or a business plan, and features the main benefits Shibuya City offers to startups.
Shibuya Startup Deck
Shibuya Startup Deck is a collaboration between the City Office and the private sector. It’s one of the first initiatives to come to life as part of the “environmental improvement” pillar of the government’s plan with its establishment in 2020.
Taking its name from the skateboarding term, the consortium aims to serve as an imaginary deck for startups to “ollie up” their first curb to success and allows them to “fall” in trying to do so in a secure way.
Over 170 companies act as participating members of the project, and the consortium works in committees to focus on specific issues in fields such as finance and real estate.
Among the partnership’s most notable services in finance is a corporate account opening support service. Created in collaboration with Mizuho Group, this service allows startups to open a bank account in Shibuya in less than two weeks.
From the real-estate committee, Knot is another notable service created in collaboration with the Deck. This office matching service allows startups that move around a lot to find new office spaces as they scale their businesses.
Another recent project from Shibuya Startup Deck comes from the culture committee. ENLIGHTEN provides the pillars in front of the Shibuya Station as an art display for artists, free of charge.
Other subjects that have dedicated committees under the Deck are smart cities, open innovation, deregulation, and human resources.
While an executive corporate membership to Shibuya Startup Deck has an annual fee of 300,000 yen, both companies and individuals can become regular members for free.
PORTAL POINT SHIBUYA: Home of Shibuya Startup Deck
Describing Shibuya Startup Deck without mentioning PORTAL POINT SHIBUYA is nigh impossible, as the Shibuya branch of the popular co-working space also serves as a home base for the Deck.
Here, you’ll find both private and shared office spaces, as well as event spaces and versatile meeting rooms that can be utilized for organizations of small or large capacities.
In addition to offering office space for selected companies (See S-Startup and the Startup Visa below), it also serves as the official event space of Shibuya Startup Deck, with over 50 events and 1.500 participants annually.
Shibuya Startup University: Entrepreneurship Training Program
Shibuya Startup University (SSU) is another initiative that’s part of the “environmental improvement pillar” of the government’s plan, and is an educational program aimed at delivering well-rounded courses in everything startup-related.
SSU’s program is as comprehensive as it gets. Not only will you find hands-on lectures delivered straight from the CEOs of major corporations, but also classes on the basics of finance and investment from Japan’s leading startup instructors.
Candidates can apply to the program online, and there are usually two admission terms in a single year. It’s 11 sessions in total in the span of a three-week period, so, the schedule is all useful content with no fillers.
While the program costs 30.000 yen, Shibuya Startup University is built on a “never graduate” principle, so, you’ll always be a part of the community and continue to reap the benefits of being a part of the SSU community even after graduation.
With exchange programs offered by the newly established global division of SSU, the program is now operating internationally. What’s more, SSU also works closely with Shibuya Startup Deck and is gearing up to offer even more opportunities to graduates and their businesses in the coming years.
“Up” by Shibuya Startup Support
“Up” by Shibuya Startup Support is a community that aims to grow businesses in Shibuya on a global scale. The initiative is part of the government’s efforts to grow internationally competitive startups in the ward, and it fits right under the “internationalization” pillar of the City’s plan I introduced earlier.
The community is a collaborative effort between leading corporations and the City Office, and it provides help to startups in their initial stages on a wide range of topics. For instance, companies can receive strategy consultations, partnership opportunities with established firms, and even assistance in hiring new talent and public relations.
UP accepts applications from businesses all over the world, as long as they have somewhat of a local presence in Japan. While the businesses in the community operate in all sorts of different fields, UP especially encourages businesses related to game and anime IPs, domestic tourism, culinary culture, natural disasters such as earthquakes, and the aging of society to join.
The community also works closely with other initiatives by the City government to offer well-rounded support for companies. For instance, the “Innovation for New Normal” project that allows businesses to test their products in the real world – as I’ll introduce later in the article – as well as Shibuya Startup Deck both act as crucial resources for the community.
To join UP with your business, you can simply fill out the application on the official website.
S-Startups: The Best Companies, Certified
No plan that encourages growth is complete without a feedback system that rewards those who are doing well, and S-Startups aims to do just that.
Established with the efforts of the previously introduced initiative Shibuya Startup Deck, S-Startups is essentially a startup certification system.
Launched in late 2022, the certification system is based on certifying startups that originate in Shibuya and have been able to grow on a global scale. In fact, the reason why it’s called S-Startup is due to three S’s.
Shibuya as the first S describes the point of origin of the certified startups, while “Scramble”, the second S, refers to the challenges or “the scramble” the startups have to go through to stand out from the rest. Finally, the last S stands for “Stream”, referring to the continuity and longevity of the company.
Companies certified by the S-Startups system receive a wide range of benefits from the government, which further incentivizes up-and-coming businesses to grow and qualify for the recognition.
Perhaps the most noteworthy one among the benefits provided is the right to benefit from PORTAL POINT SHIBUYA, the base of the Shibuya Startup Deck.
What’s more, selected companies will also receive legal support and mentorship from member companies and opportunities to meet VCs (Venture Capitals) and CVCs (corporate venture capitals).
Finally, qualifying for the certification requires businesses to be already registered as a company and in the seed stage or early stages of development. In addition, the product/service offered by the startup needs to contribute to a social issue Shibuya is struggling with.
Blackbox: Unbiased Global Media for Startups
Another effort that falls under the “internationalization” pillar of the city government’s plan, Blackbox is a media organization that focuses on everything startup-related.
Also an important part of the Japanese government’s five-year plan for startups in the country (see my post on unicorn startups), Blackbox aims to report on the latest in the country’s startup scene in a neutral, unbiased way.
Blackbox is an important step in internationalizing Japan’s startup scene as it delivers news in English. This makes the platform accessible to an international audience, informing foreign investors and those with a business plan what starting a business in Japan is really like.
In addition to original news pieces and interviews with key local business people from Japan, Blackbox also takes on the mission to translate the latest startup news from other publications that may not make it out of Japan, improving the visibility of innovation in the country.
With the core values of being open and fair, as well as valuing actions, BLACKBOX reports the scene in a clear and neutral way, all the while favoring “doers” and covering companies that take action first and foremost.
An Invitation to Shibuya: Startup Visa for Foreign Entrepreneurs
The startup visa might be the most important initiative taken by the government in an effort to internationalize the startup scene in Japan.
I talked about the startup visa extensively in my post on starting a business in Japan, but essentially, it’s a visa that’s issued to foreigners who want to start their own companies.
The visa allows for entering Japan and staying for up to one year for entrepreneurs to set their businesses up, and get them up and running.
The visa is currently offered in specific regions, with Shibuya Ward being a popular location. This may be partially due to Shibuya being a startup heaven, but it also has a lot to do with the additional benefits the City Office provides to visa holders.
For instance, entrepreneurs who are selected for the Shibuya Startup visa also receive a welcome service of sorts, which includes daily life support in the form of finding housing, helping with starting a phone contract, or opening a bank account.
In addition, while the visa is offered for up to a year, Shibuya Startup Support also provides assistance to visa holders in their journey to transition from a Startup Visa to a Business Management Visa.
While this one is available at a more limited capacity, the startup visa even allows entrepreneurs to stay at the partnered shared apartments until they find a place of their own.
Lastly, another benefit of being a startup visa owner is having a year-long free access to office facilities in the co-working spaces of SHIBUYA BRIDGE. This central space provides startups with everything a newly established company can need in an office.
The Testbed City Initiative: Real Feedback From Shibuya Residents
As part of the last pillar in the government’s plan to create a startup scene that’s competitive on an international scale, the Testbed City project is another initiative of the Shibuya City Office.
Simply put, this initiative lets businesses receive real feedback about their products or services from the residents of Shibuya.
The Testbed City project is singlehandedly spearheading the “demonstration experiments” pillar, as it quite literally allows businesses to demonstrate their services or products using real subjects in a real-world setting.
On a grander scale, the Tesbed City is part of the Innovation for New Normal from Shibuya project, which is focused on sourcing new technologies and ideas from startups, research institutes, and universities for social solutions.
The project is open to the application of all startups and educational institutions, and any ideas in any genre are welcome. That being said, certain topics are favored due to the urgency of the matter, like solving social issues.
For instance, traffic solutions that increase accessibility in the city, as well as public transportation-related solutions, elderly welfare and environmental protection solutions, and fraud-related public safety solutions are especially welcome.
While the Testbed initiative may seem too good to be true, what makes the project a reality is the support of notable Shibuya-based companies. For instance, well-known corporations such as Tokyu and GMO are known backers of the project.
With the ability to utilize local infrastructure and the support of the private sector, startups have the perfect opportunity to test and optimize their products and services that will serve social change in Shibuya.
TLDR: A Rundown on Shibuya Startup Support
The establishment of Shibuya Startup Support in 2020 was the first in a long series of initiatives to make Shibuya City the best place for foreign and local businesses. Since then, the city has introduced a variety of projects that aim to achieve this goal, as I presented in this post.
Having said this, those who may not be up for a long read might benefit from a rundown of the startup support projects provided by the City government. So, I’ll answer a couple of frequently searched questions to bring it all home and provide a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) before I go.
Is Japan a Good Country to Start a Business?
Japan isn’t just a good country to start a business – the government has introduced a variety of initiatives and projects to make it among the best countries to start a business.
More specifically, as Japan’s global hub city, the Shibuya City government has been improving the startup ecosystem for foreign entrepreneurs with projects like:
Shibuya Startup Support: An initiative that supports international entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Japan;
Shibuya Startup Deck: A private-public partnership consortium that promotes startups and fosters a supportive ecosystem for new businesses to flourish in the city;
Shibuya Startup University: An entrepreneurship education program specializing in startups;
Blackbox: A global, unbiased media that reports on the latest in Japan’s startup scene;
Shibuya Co-Creation Hub: A project that repurposes unused spaces owned by the city to provide workspaces for startups.
In addition to this, the government has also introduced a special visa to make starting a business in Japan easier for foreigners.
Can You Move to Japan as an Entrepreneur?
Moving to Japan as an entrepreneur is as realistic of a plan as it is attractive. Japan issues a special visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to move to Japan and start a business, which you can read all about in my post on starting a business in Japan.
Essentially, the startup visa provides entrepreneurs with a special resident status type for up to one year, to allow them to start a scalable business in certain areas in Japan.
What’s great about starting a business in the Shibuya ward is that the City office provides administrative assistance throughout the process and helps in legal matters related to establishing your company, so, everything goes extra smoothly.
To learn more about the visa and find out how you can apply, make sure to visit the official Shibuya City website where you can see the eligibility conditions and required documents, and download the application forms.
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